REVIEW: Avon Players’ ‘Marvin’s Room’ Embodies Hope and Healing

After ending 2018 on a high note with the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Avon Players Theatre kicks off the second half of their season with the emotional Marvin’s Room.

Written by Scott McPherson and inspired by his own experiences as a caregiver, most people are probably more familiar with the 1996 film adaptation by John Guare starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Diane Keaton, and Meryl Streep. While I never saw the movie, I had a vague notion of what the story was about, and as I sat in the audience opening night, I steeled myself for a somber performance. Instead, what I was treated to was a show filled with warmth and a surprising amount of wit.

L-R: Kaden Selvidge as ‘Charlie,’ Lesa Bydalek as ‘Ruth,’ Lia DiFonzo as “Lee,’ and Bodi Johnson as ‘Hank.’
Photo credit: Avon Players Facebook page

Set in the late 1980s in Florida, the crux of the story is one that many will identify with: family ain’t easy. Marvin, the patriarch of this malfunctioning family is dying. But as we quickly find out through his daughter and primary caregiver Bessie (Deirdre Ward-Beck), Marvin has been dying for about 20 years – slowly, so she won’t miss anything. And while the play bears Marvin’s name, it is really Bessie who is the pivotal character. In addition to Marvin, Bessie also looks after her dotty, but delightful aunt Ruth (Lesa Bydalek) whose medical device also doubles as a garage door opener. Bessie is busy taking care of others when she learns from the slightly dim Dr. Wally (Kevin Curtis) that she has leukemia and her best course of action will be a bone marrow transplant. High on the list of potential donors are her sister Lee (Lia DiFonzo) and two nephews, the troubled Hank (Bodi Johnson) and bookish Charlie (Kaden Selvidge). Problem solved, right? Sure. If this was a Disney movie. And that’s what’s wonderful about this play; it’s rooted in realism. While Lee and her boys may be Bessie’s best chance, they haven’t seen each other in 20 years. In fact, they are so estranged that Hank doesn’t even know he has an aunt when Lee tells him about Bessie’s predicament.

‘Bessie’ (Deirdre Ward-Beck) and ‘Hank’ (Bodi Johnson) share a moment.
Photo credit: Avon Players Facebook page

From the moment Lee and the boys arrive in Florida, it becomes evident that there is more than one elephant in the room that will need to be addressed – between the sisters and between Lee and Hank. For so many years Bessie has been the one to put the needs of others above her own. Does this make her better than Lee? Or does it show that even within a family with shared DNA, we’re not all going to react the same way to the same situations. This is what makes Bessie so endearing. You never get the sense that’s she’s bitter or that she frittered away her life. In fact, at one point she tells Lee, “I’ve been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.” It is important to note that Bessie is not trying to make Lee feel bad about being absent for the last 20 years, but rather reassure her that there is no animosity and no regrets. And much credit for this relatable performance is to be given in the way Deirdre Ward-Beck portrays her. Honestly, I felt her channeling a bit of Diane Keaton, who was nominated for an Academy Award for the role. Her words are spoken with quiet conviction that washes over you in a gentle calm. Another dynamic that was great to watch were the scenes between Bessie and Hank. She listens to him, and yet isn’t afraid to call him out when he tells exaggerated stories, which she knows are a defense mechanism for him. From these talks an unlikely alliance emerges and gives the audience a glimpse that there is a redemption taking place within Hank.

Reconnection. Rediscovery. Family may not be easy, but sometimes all that is needed is the right opportunity for listening to and extending grace to others. Because we could all use a little more more of both in our daily lives.

The show runs a little over two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets for all shows are $18. Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online at www.AvonPlayers.org. Group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. All seats are reserved.

Catch one of the remaining performances:

  • Friday, January 25              8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 26         8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, January 27           2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, February 1              8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 2          8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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